The Meter is Running on Your Internet Usage
By Robert McMillen, Koin’s Tech Guru
In the early 1990’s when consumer use of the internet was new and was all done by dial up, we were used to paying for the internet by the hour. I remember some of my bills ran over a hundred dollars a month. Plus, we had to pay for the phone usage as well.
Fast forward almost twenty years and we see a different world. Besides phone bills dropping by 80% over what they were back then, we have unlimited and 'always on' internet capability. But a new ugly term came into being a few years ago and congress is once again taking up sides as to which way they should vote on it. It’s called internet throttling. Is your internet use being throttled by your internet provider? Let’s find out.
Q- “I’m confused as to why my internet is slower at times than others. Is my internet provider slowing me down on purpose?” Paul V. Portland.
A- Well, Paul, it could be a throttling issue or it could be the type of internet service provider you’re using. It could also be your computer or router (or gremlins). Let’s first look at your type of broadband internet connection. If you’re using DSL, one of the most common reasons for fast and then slow connectivity is going to be the fact that you share your bandwidth with your phone. When you pick up your phone to take a call, your internet speed will drop in half. That’s because you use two pairs of lines when using DSL, but if the phone uses one of those pairs you only have one left. See how easy math can be? If you need further proof, just buy me a cherry pie and watch me eat half of it. You will clearly see what you have left.
If you use cable for your high speed internet, you have a different reason for speed going up and down. With cable you’ll experience fast speed when everyone in your neighborhood is off to work or school and it will slow down dramatically from around 3-9 PM, when everyone wants to use it. You share the cable coming into your neighborhood with all your neighbors. DSL does not and neither does FIOS.
You should also check your Ethernet cables to see if they got pinched by any furniture, although sometimes they go bad with no visible scars. It could be a virus that activates periodically to avoid detection. I think you’ve read my blog long enough to know how to check for that. You could also be running a background program that is slowing the entire computer down. You can use the task manager to see what programs may be using up much of your resources when you notice the slowdown. The antivirus scan is a big speed killer. You can disable the scan if you need to work and run it later.
Comcast does have a limit to how much data you can download before you either get throttled or charged a surcharge on your bill. You can check with them to see if you have reached the maximum metered amount to find out. Time Warner also tried a meter with their customers this week and withdrew it immediately when not only customers got upset, but congress started complaining about it. TW didn’t want a law passed over this that would keep them from ever bringing the issue back, so they temporarily withdrew the meter. Eventually, all internet service providers will charge a surcharge or throttle our bandwidth- unless we stop them. The reason they give for this is that the prevalence of video streaming is putting a strain on their networks and it is unfair to the people who don’t use the internet that much.
I have kids and I know what whining sounds like. This sounds like a lot of whining from the internet companies when the answer is simple: Upgrade the system. The US is way behind in our high speed usage compared to the rest of the civilized world. According to tech_sassy, we have the 15th fastest speed despite having invented the technology! The leader is South Korea. Their average speed is around 50 Mbs compared to our paltry average of 4.9. I realize that many of us have faster than this in the Portland area, but not all of us live in population dense areas.
Many people still cannot even get high speed internet in our country. They’ve had phone and electricity for over a century, but broadband is not an option like it should be. Congress said we all had to have at least DSL capability as of 2006, but there were no teeth in that bill. President Obama has picked up the ball on this and is running high speed to everyone as fast as he can get congress to move.
Throttling and surcharges will be the norm for the next few years, and possibly forever if we let it happen. We need to incentivize our internet providers to upgrade their systems. You do know what happens when you let a toll road go up, don’t you? It never, ever, ever goes away. The gremlins are actually the internet providers. Let’s shut down the meter.
For more great tips, check back here and listen to me on the All Tech Radio show at 9:00 Sunday mornings on AM 1360 KUIK and at 10 AM in Seattle on KOL, or listen online at http://alltechradio.com.
If you would like your technical question answered here, just email email@example.com. Even if it doesn’t get answered in the column, I will always answer by email.